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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (03/2004) Headlines (02/2004) Headlines (04/2004)   Vol. 38 March 2004 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the March 2004 edition of W&ET Magazine


Historical records indicate that the side-wheel steamer SS Republic was carrying 20,000 gold coins, worth $120 million to $180 million today, when a hurricane sent it to the bottom of the Atlantic in 1865.

But there could be more. A lot more.

Based on early examination of the sunken wreck by the crew of the ship Odyssey Explorer, coin expert Donald Kagin says there could be close to 30,000 gold pieces down there, 1,700 feet beneath the surface.

Either way, it almost certainly will be one of the richest shipwrecks ever salvaged. And because it is so far out in international waters, salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration doesn't have to share the wealth with coastal state governments. The company also gained legal possession of the site in federal court under a principle known as "admiralty arrest" to bar anyone else from laying claim to the treasure.

High-resolution photos taken by a remote-controlled underwater vehicle show a massive pile of coins that looks like something out of "Pirates of the Caribbean."

"This is what we all dream about," said Kagin, an author and authority on U.S. coins who has been hired to catalog and preserve the treasure.

It's too early to say how much it will end up being worth, he said.

"This is like predicting the presidential election at 9 o'clock in the morning," said John Morris, president of Odyssey Marine Exploration, a publicly traded company based in Tampa. "We have a lot of indicators here that make it look really good, but there's a lot of work to do."

The discovery in July of the Republic wreck, about 100 miles southeast of Savannah, Georgia, was the culmination of more than a decade of searching by Morris and his partner, Greg Stemm.

Along with their 250-foot Odyssey Explorer, the heart of the project is Zeus, a "remotely operated vehicle," or ROV, which acts as the crew's eyes and hands. The ROV is equipped with cameras and has robotic arms that can handle the most delicate finds. A vacuum system lifts coins and other artifacts into a container to be hoisted to the surface.

"It's as good as being down there," project archaeologist Neil C. Dobson said. "In fact, it's even better because you can get so close. It's the nearest you can get to getting the archaeologist on site."

So far, the Odyssey Explorer crew has recovered about 1,750 coins and 300 other artifacts, including the ship's bell. It could take another three months or so to finish. A National Geographic film team is chronicling the expedition.

The Republic, a 210-foot steamer that was once part of the Union fleet, was carrying 59 passengers and taking money and supplies from New York to New Orleans for post-Civil War reconstruction when it went down.

All the passengers escaped aboard life boats, according to newspaper accounts at the time, but the ship was lost until the Odyssey explorers detected it last summer.

The company also has plans to salvage another ship, the HMS Sussex, which sank in 1694 off Gibraltar while leading a British fleet into the Mediterranean Sea. Historians believe the 157-foot warship was carrying nine tons of gold intended to buy the support of the Duke of Savoy for war against France.

But while the Sussex's cargo could be more valuable than the Republic's, Odyssey will have to share the former with the British government. The company will get 80 percent of the first $45 million and about 50 percent of the proceeds thereafter.

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal, submitted by Cheryl Fealy, and many other readers including, Doug Amundson, Stephen & Julie Buckler, Francis Hasebrook, Jeff Hauenstein, and David Wolan.


It's no secret that tens of millions of dollars in gold and silver are buried about 20 miles north of the city of Cincinnati, Ohio.

But no one's likely to claim this treasure, because it's trapped inside of about 20 million tons of radioactive waste.

The precious metals are mixed together with radioactive gunk stored in huge concrete silos at the former Fernald uranium processing plant.

During the Cold War, raw ore from South Africa was boiled in acids or baked in superheated ovens at Fernald to extract uranium for building nuclear weapons.

The byproducts, including other valuable metals such as palladium, platinum, titanium and nickel, were discarded and stored at the site as waste. A 1974 study found about $10 million in gold alone inside silos, figuring its value at $400 per ounce.

Bob Kispert, a Fernald historian who worked in the production facility from 1954 until 1992, said separating the valuable metals from the poisonous waste would cost more than the treasure is worth.

"The economics just didn't work- by a wide margin," Kispert said. "There just wasn't the payback to support the massive and complicated chemical processes that would have been necessary."

From The Courier, submitted by Jeff Hauenstein, Findlay, OH.


A 103.38-carat diamond- billed as the largest ever put up for auction- failed to sell recently because it fell short of the $8.42 million asking price.

Bidding stopped at $7.65 million for the stone, which had been mesmerizing jewelry dealers and collectors with its size and purity. Its sale was meant to be the climax of Sotheby's fall auctions of magnificent jewels.

Only three other diamonds of perfect color and purity weighing more than 100 carats have ever been sold publicly. The most valuable was a 100.1-carat, pear-shaped diamond that fetched $16.5 million in May 1995.

Recently, a 478-carat sapphire larger than a hen's egg that once belonged to Queen Marie of Romania was sold by rival auctioneer Christie's for $1,494,000. A 64-carat diamond fetched $4,246,000. A pendant necklace featuring a 47-carat sapphire with a diamond of almost 27 carats attached to it sold for $2,368,000.

From the News Sentinel, submitted by John H. Wadsworth, Oak Ridge, TN.


Archaeologists said recently they had uncovered the ruins of an ancient citadel in Hanoi dating from 1,300 years ago, describing it as the most important archaeological find in Vietnamese history.

Workers began clearing an area the size of two soccer fields in December 2002 to build government buildings, but archaeologists were called in before construction began to investigate for possible artifacts.

Recently, an archaeological team revealed it had discovered thousands of artifacts, many in good condition, as well as pillar foundations of a structure, graves, a network of drainage systems, water wells and imprints of an ancient river and lake.

"This is the biggest and most important archaeological find in Vietnam's archaeological history," said Tong Trung Tin, deputy director of the Institute of Archaeology.

In some places, the team came across artifacts and structures built on top of each other ranging from the 7th to the 19th centuries, he said.

From The Honolulu Advertiser, submitted by Ron Paul Smith, Honolulu, HI.


What's left when a sunken submarine is finally cleared of tons of pudding-like mud, the bones of eight men and a collection of 3,000 artifacts?

A still unsolved mystery.

Three years after it was raised off Sullivan's Island, archaeologists continue to be baffled as to what caused the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley to sink.

But they have finished the sub's excavation. The final scoops of mud and seashells came out of the hard-to-reach fore and aft ballast tanks this week, clearing the sub's cramped insides all the way to the floor.

With the goo finally out, the Hunley team is ready to start the next phase: mapping and X-raying its insides, removing its internal mechanisms and trying to figure out what catastrophe befell the sub in its final moments nearly 140 years ago.

Although there are several theories, Hunley project manager Bob Neyland said the final answer probably won't come until all the critical data can be analyzed at once, years from now.

"A lot of things don't come together until you start writing up all the evidence," Neyland said, adding that there "is no smoking gun."

The X-ray of the sub is important because it will allow the scientists to see through all the levels of concretion covering both the sub's hull and its internal mechanics that may be covering up a defect that could have contributed- even in a small, now undetectable way- to the sinking.

As in previous digs in the sub, several new secrets about the Hunley and her crew were found in the past few weeks:

*A repair kit to plug leaks. What was first thought to be a wooden chamber pot for the crew instead appears to be a caulking kit. It was aboard possibly in anticipation of the blast from ramming its 90-pound explosive into the Union blockade ship Housatonic. A chisel-shaped caulking iron was found nearby. A wrench, hammer and coil of rope were also found.

*Ballast water could be moved from front to back. A pipe under the crew's feet allowed sea water to be moved back and forth between the fore and aft ballast tanks. The advantage? It meant the crew didn't have to exhaust themselves by pumping in more ballast water. Instead, they could manage the minimal amount they needed to dive, surface or keep the sub on an even keel. Archaeologists were able to get into the ballast tanks by removing outside hull panels.

*Submarine integrity. None of the several large holes found in the sub appear to be from the time of the sinking but probably were a result of anchors being dragged over the sub afterward. The forward hatch is also slightly open and not fastened. Neyland said it may be because an anchor snagged it and forced it ajar. Sub commander George Dixon may also have left it open intentionally to act as a vent or to peer out.

With no obvious sign of disaster "we have to look for more subtle influences as to the reason for the sinking," Neyland said.

What is known for sure is that all eight crewmen died in their places in the sub: Dixon in front, and seven men behind him at working or rowing stations along the Hunley's internal propeller crank.

The Hunley became the world's first successful attack submarine on the night of Feb. 17, 1864, when it rammed its black powder charge into the Housatonic, sending the Yankee ship to the bottom in a powerful explosion. Although the sub is believed to have survived the attack, it never returned. It was found four miles offshore by a dive team funded by best-selling author Clive Cussler in 1995 and raised in 2000.

Most of the sub's innards- including its crankshaft, crew bench seat, pumps, ballast ingots of various sizes and its depth gauge- will also have to come out, Neyland said, so they can be conserved separately.

Conservation work has already begun on many of the other artifacts already found, including bones, buttons, Dixon's gold watch and the diamond jewelry he carried.

From The Post and Courier, submitted by Stephen & Julie Buckler, Walterboro, SC.

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